“In such an ugly time the true protest is beauty.” –Phil Ochs
“Roam is an acoustic folk band from Yorkshire.” So begins my review of Roam’s first album Count the Stars. Luckily, this third album Ragged in the Rain is similarly dedicated to making pretty folk music, with its Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, and fragile vocals another combatant in our grim aggressive times.
The title track “Ragged In the Rain” and the booklet quote above are taken from the works of Phil Ochs. Most of the songs on the album, though, were written by singer and guitarist Chris Rudd. One of the prettiest of his compositions, at the center of an Arthurian trilogy, is the satiny, harp drenched “Lady Of the Lake.” Rachael Anne Davies sings:
“And in the silken cloud she is a river,
Yet hidden in the light that sails the skies
The sky is like a song that sings forever
And tells us of the truth that never dies.”
Scholars of melancholy poetry will recognize “Autumn,” with words by Walter de la Mare:
“And clouds like sheep
Stream over the steep grey skies where the lark was.”
Writing this review in an Oregon January, I can see those clouds outside my window as Davies’ voice and Rudd’s melody intertwine with Chris Knowles’ Celtic harp.
Is there no end to this often melancholy dreaminess? “Toss About You,” sung by Colin Rudd, is a straightforward acoustic guitar song about social justice and middle management. “One Person/Flax In Bloom” is a call for friendship and unity, and a fine chance to hear Ben Walker’s soul-rich uilleann pipes, a new addition on this release. The song “Count the Stars” has a slide guitar and harmonica country blues motif. Harp enthusiasts will also find a break in a familiar Carolan set.
Here is something perplexing: How do these songs of loneliness and sadness protest ugliness and unhappiness? Maybe the premise of the album would ring more true if the lyrics were sweeter. Perhaps the lyrics here are soldiers in Trojan horse songs, in the eternal war of human nature against dystopian content. In any event, like the last album, Ragged in the Rain is a lovely album with few ties to English traditional song, the roots coming from magic, beauty, and trans-Atlantic folk and progressive folk.